The first trophies of the Oracle Challenger Series Houston were awarded Saturday afternoon, as Ellen Perez and Luisa Stefani took the Women’s Doubles title over top seeds Sharon Fichman and Ena Shibahara. This is the first WTA-level title as a team for the Aussie and Brazilian duo and marks the second for each individually.
“It’s my first WTA 125 win, so it’s a really big deal,” said Stefani. “I haven’t played with Ellen in more than a year and we always talk about it. So more than winning the title, winning with her has made it such a fun week.”
It was not a fun first set for the eventual champions, though, as they went down a quick 0-5 deficit thanks to incredible groundstrokes from Fichman and movement from Shibahara. After dropping the opener 1-6, they knew they needed to make a change in order to come back and win.
“The big thing was we moved to two of us back on the return of serve,” said Perez about the adjustments they made leading into the second set. “At the start of the match, we were all up and they were hitting volleys straight through us – we had no chance of getting ourselves in the point. So moving back changed the perspective of what they were looking at.”
The second set was a back-and-forth affair. After staying on serve until 2-1, the teams traded breaks to finish up the set. At 5-4, 40-40, Perez and Stefani won a crucial deciding deuce point that could have put the set back on serve. Instead, the pair closed out the set on an incredible point and sent it to a deciding tiebreak.
“We got the momentum at the end of the second set,” said Stefani. “We had a few close games and played a big point to win the set and got really pumped. We kept it going in the tiebreaker, which was tight until a certain point, but Ellen did a great job of playing big ball in the important moments.”
The teams held serve in the tiebreak until 5-4, when Perez and Stefani turned on the heat, winning five of the last six points to capture the Oracle Challenger Series Houston title.
In the men’s doubles final, veterans Jonathan Erlich and Santiago Gonzalez won 6-3, 7-6(4) over Ariel Behar and Gonzalo Escobar. The match was tight from the get-go, but especially so in the second set. Erlich (who is 42 years old) and Gonzales (who is 36), however, used their experience to come away with the win.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are, winning is always nice,” said Erlich. “We had a great run this week.”
“It’s a good feeling to finish the year with a title,” added Gonzalez.
Erlich is a Grand Slam Champion, having won the Australian Open in 2008 with Andy Ram, and Gonzales reached the 2017 Roland Garros final with Donald Young. The pair is a great match, whose combined strengths helped them to the title in Houston.
“Santiago is a big guy, very strong and has great serves,” Erlich said about his partner. “And his forehand is one of the best in doubles. And besides that, we get along really well and are very good friends. We have great chemistry.”
“Yes, Jonathan and I get along very well,” replied Gonzalez. “He’s definitely at least top three in volleys, he’s one of the best players at the net. So it’s a great combination.”
The one-two punch of Gonzalez’ serve/forehand and Erlich’s net play was in full stride Saturday, and the veteran duo have yet another feather in their cap with this prestigious Oracle Challenger Series title.